Twice every year in Ajijic, on July 23 and May 22,* el sol is directly overhead at solar noon, which today was at 1:59pm local time. That means your shadow is directly below you, not at an angle like it is year round in the Continental United States (or anywhere else north of the Tropic of Cancer or south of the Tropic of Capricorn).
That also means more direct UV rays. And with an elevation of over 5,000 ft (over 1,500 meters), there is less atmosphere in Ajijic to block UV rays than at sea level. At this elevation, UV rays can be as much as 50% more intense than at sea level. That means put on sunscreen and a hat—or better yet, stay out of the sun altogether.
In this picture, Z is leaning her head and shoulders forward to look at her shadow, which is directly below her.
*Ajijic is at a latitude of about 20.25°. Here’s a graphic showing different dates and latitudes where the sun is directly overhead. So while I haven’t done the math, this date is a pretty close guesstimate.
I’m not on the PR team for Ajijic, so I’m not limited to sharing only the positives. Here’s a negative: the mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes breed in standing water and swamps, and Lake Chapala has plenty of that on its shores. Z seems to be particularly attractive to them—she counted 55 bites on her legs.
It’s cool enough to wear long pants, and probably even a long-sleeve shirt. But yesterday I did get bit on my back through my shirt, so these are clever little buggers.
Disease like malaria and yellow fever is not an issue here. It’s just uncomfortable.
The little town where we are staying, San Antonio Tlayacapen, sits on the shores of Lake Chapala between Ajijic and Chapala. It is a working class town with very few foreigners living here. In other words, just the kind of place for my kids to experience “real” Mexican culture.
Next door to us sits an empty lot where two gaunt horses live. There are roosters on three sides of us, who conspired to wake up J at 6:00 yesterday. And in the alley next to us are boys playing marbles.
The other night, as we were walking back from the store, we saw a growing gathering of boys on the street, appearing to get ready for a community marble tournament. I saw a couple boys walk past with socks bulging with marbles. A little farther down, the younger boys were having their own competition.
Yesterday, J found a marble in the street. With no one around to claim it, I told him to pick it up for practice. “How do you play marbles, Dad?” I told him we’ll have to ask the boys sometime. “But we won’t understand them.” That’s another good reason to learn Spanish, I said.
My son, who never met a sport he didn’t like, has been practicing a game he made up with his marble. And he is suddenly very motivated to work on his Spanish.
We broke down and pulled an old suitcase from storage to put more stuff in. Angela pointed out that we’ll have to get a cart at the airport anyway, since the kids can’t muscle 2 50-pound bags each. If that’s the case, what’s one more bag on the cart?
I checked with Alaska Airlines, and the 3rd bag fee is $75, while the overweight fee is also $75. They only charge one fee per bag. So we can jam 100 lbs of stuff into that last bag, and it will cost the same as a 15 lb 3rd bag. Yay, more stuff.
Man, I can’t believe how much stuff I’m personally bringing. It’s hard to imagine that I’ll actually use all of it. But it’s like the old story about advertising: the businessman knows half the advertising doesn’t work, he just don’t know which half. In my case, I know I won’t use half the stuff I’m bringing, I just don’t know which half.
We leave for Mexico in 8 hours. It’s hard to believe that we’re finally at this moment after 27 months of planning. Angela pointed out that for J, over half the life he remembers has been planning for this coming year, and now the moment is here.
J spent the afternoon playing at his best friend’s house, and as they parted there were a lot of tears by both the boys (and, I’ve heard, by the moms, too). Z spent the afternoon with one of her best friends, too. We’ll be giving both kids access to iPads specifically to text and FaceTime their friends on a regular basis.
My colleagues at work are so excited for us, and sent me off with a full heart. I work with such a great team, I can’t imagine trying to do this without their support.
This morning in staff meeting, I told them of the incredible peace Angela and I feel about doing this. I know God is behind this, especially in the timing and location. That gives me a confidence to go boldly into the unknown, without fear or tentativeness. This place of peace in my heart is where I want to stay.
The house has been emptied of its contents. We got rid of half our stuff (thank you, Craigslist), yet still filled a storage unit. Today we wrap up some loose ends here in the U.S., then head to the airport at 4:00 am tomorrow.
Each of us has two suitcases and a carry-on, filled with everything we’ll need for a year of living in México. We’ve distributed the heavy items amongst the suitcases, with 6 of the 8 right at 50 lbs each.
Our church family prayed for us on Saurday, and our closest friends threw us a nice fairwell dinner last night, with more prayers and tears. We’re being sent on our journey filled with love for our community, and we’ll miss them.
Now, we’re off on our adventure together.
We’re leaving in 12 days! It’s a whirlwind around here. We got the storage unit a couple weeks ago, and we’ve been taking loads there every day or two and trying to stay organized. But we’re getting to the point of just throwing things in boxes and dealing with it later.
I must say, it’s nice to clean house. We’re selling most of our big furniture, to avoid paying for a larger storage unit. (Of course, we got a big unit anyway, and our stuff will be swimming in it. I guess it will be easier to find stuff if we have to rent a little apartment when we get home in a year and can’t move out of the storage unit entirely.)
Work has been crazy for both Angela and me. As if it wasn’t busy enough, our office moved to a new building last week, while we’re trying to launch two major projects with a bunch of new staff.
Stressed? ¡Por supuesto! Excited? ¡Absolutamente!
We can hardly wait to get going.
And finally, the fundamental reason we chose Ajijic for our year abroad: we’ve sensed God’s leading to come here.
We’re Christians, and we’ve been praying for God’s guidance throughout this process. One way I sense His leading is through peace—or the lack of it—in my heart. Many times over the last two years Angela and I have discussed an option, settled on a choice, then woke up the next day unsettled. Our friends will tell you about the many times when they’ve heard us say, “We’ve decided to go to this place!”, then discover us talking about someplace completely different a week later. (At this point, some of them probably won’t believe we’re going to Ajijic, either, until we’re actually there.)
But with Ajijic, we have felt peace. It’s kinda cool, actually. We feel peace about our decision to spend a year abroad. My coworkers feel peace (mostly) about me working remotely. My children are excited about spending a year in México. And we feel peace about Ajijic.
Frankly, this town isn’t at all what we had in mind when we started this journey. We thought we’d be helping out at an orphanage, or a girl’s home, or a school. We thought we’d be in a more economically-challenged area. We thought we’d be participating in some mission associated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. But Ajijic has none of these, from what we can tell.
Still, God has something in mind for us. We believe God wants us in Ajijic. We have peace about this decision. So off we go on an adventure together.
Why did we choose Ajijic? Another reason is a relatively large expat community.
(Expat is short for “expatriot,” which means someone living outside their home country. Having lived as an expat when I was younger, I can tell you that this term can have negative connotations to some in the foreign country you’re living in. Nonetheless, it’s a convenient word widely used in expat communities around the world, so I’ll use it here, too.)
Ajijic has about 1,000 expats living there full time, mostly retired Americans and Canadians. This represents a little less than 10% of the population. While we don’t want to just move to a gated community filled with American grandparents (which wouldn’t be the cross-cultural experience we had in mind), it does give us the opportunity to connect with others who share our experience.
The Lake Chapala Society in Ajijic is the focus of a lot of expat activity, offering language classes and social events. We’re hoping that the large expat community in Ajijic will help Angela find people to connect with to give her a support network and help her feel less isolated during our year abroad.
Another reason we chose Ajijic: bilingual school options for the kids.
Ajijic has 4 different bilingual elementary schools (though we’ve heard that one closed last year), all with tuition running under $500 USD per month for our two students. We’ll be selecting their school once we’ve arrived, but for now we feel very comfortable with having more than one option, and that they’ll have some schooling in both English and Spanish.
We had been planning to send the kids to a regular school where everything would be in Spanish. That would certainly help them learn the language better, and besides, Iquitos didn’t have any bilingual school option. When we switched our search to Mexico, our thinking didn’t change initially. But as we explored locations in Mexico, we discovered a school in Sayulita that looked like a great experience especially for our 6th grader, Z. That led us to change our thinking, and a bilingual school for the kids became one of our top priorities.
Both our kids have done well academically. (Z was disappointed that she got an A- in one subject in her final grades in 5th grade.) I’ve been telling Z that she’s not going to do as well in Mexico, preparing her for the fact that she won’t understand half the classes for the first few weeks or months. But I think her drive to succeed academically will push her through that barrier. And she has told me several times that at least she’ll be able to get an A in English class.
The top goal here is the cross-cultural experience, not learning Spanish. Having the kids experience the social dynamics of a school environment in a different country will be critical to that. But we also don’t want our kids to fall behind academically. We’ll have both of them working on math and English language arts at home, using the curriculum from their stateside school.